Zack’s Predictions for 2009 Academy Award Nominations

Zack Rosenblatt ('09)/Eastside Entertainment Editor

On January 11th, the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFPA) handed out Golden Globes for the best of film (and television) in 2008. The star-laden list of Globe nominees in attendance included the Tropic Thunder duo of Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr., Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and the reunion of Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Although the ceremony itself lagged overall (other than the hilarious moments provided by presenters Sacha Baron Cohen and Ricky Gervais), the Globes provided some surprising results.

People often look at the Globes as a precursor for the Academy Awards, but the reality is that the Golden Globe winners (or nominations) have no bearing whatsoever on the Academy Awards. This is evidenced by the fact that the HFPA is composed of ninety international journalists living in Hollywood, while the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Oscars) is composed of over 6,000 movie professionals (made up of mostly producers, actors, writers and directors). This leads me to conclude a few things about this year’s Golden Globes, in relation to the Oscars:

– Kate Winslet is not likely to win both Best Actress and Supporting Actress again
– Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger will likely be the only Globe nominees for Supporting Actor to receive a similar Oscar nomination (although Downey Jr. has a decent shot).
Dark Knight and Milk are more likely to receive Best Picture nominations than The Reader or Revolutionary Road
– Christopher Nolan and Gus Van Sant are more likely to receive Director nominations than Sam Mendes or Stephen Daldry
There were some clear winners (Kate Winslet, Slumdog Millionaire) as well as losers (Benjamin Button, Meryl Streep) but all in all, it really does not matter in relation to this year’s Academy Awards. At 8:30 tomorrow morning (5:30 PST) AMPAS President Sid Ganis and Academy member (and nominated actor) Forrest Whitaker will reveal the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards.

Although it’s a guessing game at this point, looking at the many Critic Association Winners along with the Guild Awards (SAG, WGA, PGA, DGA) I was able to determine what films are most likely to be nominated for Best Picture early tomorrow morning.

1. Slumdog Millionaire– This Bollywood film has shocked the industry on its way to becoming the odds on favorite for this year’s top prize. I have yet to see the film, but based off what I’ve heard, it’s a tremendous film and seemingly deserving of whatever accolades come its way. Although it is pegged as the front runner in the Best Picture race, there is never a sure thing at the Academy Awards (at least in the Best Picture Race).

2. Curious Case of Benjamin Button– This is the film that seems most likely to overtake Slumdog. This film has all the credentials the Academy usually looks for in a Best Picture, including: critical acclaim, visually spectacular and potential nominations in most of the “prestige” categories including Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Actress (Cate Blanchett), Supporting Actress (Taraji P. Henson), Director (David Fincher) and Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth). Although Button will surely receive many nominations, don’t be surprised if the film goes home empty-handed (a la Gangs of New York in 2003)

3. MilkButton and Slumdog are all but assured of Best Picture nominations, but the other three nominations are much more iffy and outside of those two, Milk is probably the closest thing to a “lock”. Due to its subject matter, Milk‘s potential failures will inevitably be compared to the lack of success Brokeback Mountain had a few years back which is not at all fair to Milk, or to Brokeback. That being said, Milk boasts similarly impressive credentials as Benjamin Button, but outside of Sean Penn for Best Actor and Dustin Lance Black for Original Screenplay, there really are no guarantees for this film. If Milk receives additional nominations for Director (Gus Van Sant) or Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin and/or James Franco) than its chances for Best Picture increase dramatically.

4. Frost/Nixon– One of two prime Oscar contenders based on acclaimed plays (the other being Doubt), Frost/Nixon has been on the Best Picture radar longer than any other film in the running. However, I do not believe the film is much of a contender as it once was. Pundits have compared its situation to that of Dreamgirls a few years back, which was a long-running favorite for Best Picture only to be snubbed come nomination time. The film has not achieved as much commercial success as many expected, garnering just $8.8 million to this point in limited release, so it would not shock me if Doubt or The Wrestler stole its nomination away.

The fifth nomination spot is undoubtedly the toughest one to gauge and there could be as many as six films vying for the last spot. Here’s a breakdown of the contenders:

Doubt:

Upside:
-Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep.
-Likely to receive four acting nominations (Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis) plus a possible screenplay nomination.
-Similar to Frost/Nixon, is an adaptation of a critically acclaimed play

Downside:
-Did not receive Best Picture nominations from virtually any other awards
-Excluded from AFI Top Ten
-Nominations from Critics, Guilds and Golden Globes have exclusively been for acting
-Not unanimously praised by critics

Dark Knight:

Upside:
-2nd highest grossing film of all-time, after Titanic
-Unanimously praised by critics
-Contender for Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor
-BP nominations from PGA, DGA and WGA
-Included on AFI Top Ten of 2008.

Downside:
-Based off a comic book
-Meant to be a “summer blockbuster”,
-Not a traditional Oscar-type film,
-No Best Picture nominations from Globes, BAFTA or SAG
-Many attribute attention towards the film to Heath Ledger’s performance
-Could possibly be left out of Director and Screenplay nominations

The Reader:

Upside:
-Producer Harvey Weinstein has proven adept at pushing his films for nominations, -Acclaimed performances of Kate Winslet, David Kross and Ralph Fiennes
-Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes and BAFTA

Downside:
-Was not unanimously praised by critics
-Kate Winslet is the only likely acting nomination
-No nominations received from SAG, DGA, PGA or WGA and excluded from AFI top ten
-Screenplay and director are long shots for nomination

The Wrestler:

Upside:
-Sentimental favorite,
-The most critically lauded film of 2008 (according to Rottentomatoes)
-Superb performances from the lead actors
-Contender in Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, and Original Screenplay categories
-WGA and Independent Spirit nominee
-Named to AFI’s top ten
-Won the Golden Lion (Best Film) at the Venice Film Festival

Downside:
-Lack of Best Picture nominations from SAG, PGA, DGA, BAFTA or Golden Globes
-Main focus has been on Mickey Rourke’s comeback performance, not overall quality of film
-Darren Aronofsky is considered a long shot for director
-Recent sports movies rarely nominated for Best Picture (one exception being Jerry Maguire)

Gran Torino:

Upside:
-The Academy loves them some Clint Eastwood, as he has directed four Best Picture nominees
-The film has been a critical and commercial success (earning over $70 million to this point, and will eventually become Eastwood’s biggest box office success)
-Eastwood is a contender for Actor and Director and the screenplay is candidate for nomination

Downside:
-Not considered Eastwood’s best work
-Has received virtually no Best Picture nominations to this point
-Eastwood is the only notable performer in the film

Revolutionary Road:

Upside:
-Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
-Mendes is respected by the Academy for his work on American Beauty
-Based off a critically acclaimed novel
-Contender for Screenplay, Director, Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor categories
-Lauded performances by Leo and Winslet, plus Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates
-Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture

Downside:
-Winslet appears in Road and Reader, leading to a potential vote split
-Outside of Globes, not nominated for Best Picture in any major awards
-Mendes is long shot for director and he has largely disappeared from Academy’s attention since 1999’s American Beauty.

5. In the end, I think Dark Knight will surprise and steal the fifth Best Picture nomination.

Here is a quick run-down of my predictions for some of the other Awards nominations:

Best Actor:

Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button
Runners-Up: Richard Jenkins (Visitor), Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)

Best Actress:

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long
Runners-Up: Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Cate Blanchett (Benjamin Button), Melissa Leo (Frozen River)

Supporting Actor:

Heath Ledger, Dark Knight
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Josh Brolin, Milk
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Runners-Up: Michael Shannon (Rev. Road), Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), James Franco (Milk)

Supporting Actress:

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin Button
Runners-Up: Amy Adams (Doubt), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married)

Director:

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, Benjamin Button
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Christopher Nolan, Dark Knight
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Runners-Up: Jonathan Demme (Rachel), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky)

Original Screenplay:

Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Robert Siegel, The Wrestler
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
Runners-Up: Coen Brothers (Burn After Reading), Nick Schenk (Gran Torino)

Adapted Screenplay:

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Eric Roth, Benjamin Button
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
Christopher & Jonathan Nolan, Dark Knight
Runners-Up: David Hare (Reader), Justin Haythe (Rev. Road)

Animated:

1. Wall-E
2. Waltz with Bashir
3. Kung Fu Panda

Runner-Up: Bolt